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Reality bites

And I was looking forward to a quiet weekend…

That’s my own fault for thinking that, because one thing that never exists at a club called Wimbledon is a sedate time. There’s always something going on.

Even for a fanbase that has experienced what no other set of supporters will ever face, the news this week about the funding issues hitting the fan – perhaps literally in some cases – has gone in the top five of shocks to the system.

You’ve read and digested what’s what by now. You might have even read the de facto WISA open letter, which raises some good questions (and one not-so-good one – why should anyone be expected to stand for the DTB if they want to do anything at the club?).

Until we get further details, which apparently will be coming soon (along with a response to said open letter), we can’t further examine what the nuts and bolts of this are.

There have been many thoughts swilling around many minds this week though, and now it’s sinking in cooler heads are taking charge.

First things first, though – we’re still going home. Even if nothing else changes. OK, a 4k stadium that’s going to cost us £22m or so isn’t going to be fun for very long, but it’s home. We’ve passed the point of no return on it anyway, not that I’d ever entertain KM as “home”.

But let’s be honest here. This is a clusterfuck of immense proportions.

Simply put – the eggs that have been laid out for so many years have hatched, and are now taking the train home to do some roosting.

The way we fund this club has always been the elephant in the room. From memory, I don’t remember any proper discussion about it (I don’t follow anything DT related but I’m sure whenever it’s been proposed for debate it’s been nixxed).

Like the whole Franchise business, it never gets properly “solved” because too many people still don’t want to deal with it head on – until it’s too late.

We rely too much on the likes of the Yellow and Blue Club, none of whom are getting younger, to keep the club’s coffers topped up.

One reason this news has blindsided many is because of the stark choices the club has laid out. Not everyone is in this boat, mind you – privately some of the people at the coal face have said this was going to happen sooner or later.

We are where we are, and this wasn’t a good week for your editor time wise to go through everything bit by bit.

Here goes though : the three scenarios** AFCW presented has led me to one conclusion – external investment has now become inevitable. It’s just a case of when, and on what terms.

** – the fourth one, in the original blurb sent out to DT members, was more crowdfunding and dipping into supporter wallets yet again. Sensibly omitted, at least for now, and dare I suggest an attitude that has led us to the current situation?

Stay as we are, and the pressures of dealing with a 4k stadium (and the projected drop in divisions) becomes even greater than what we face right now.

Good luck trying to “sell” a ground that has three empty sides, no club shop, hardly any facilities, and with a team that could be fast heading back to non-league football – a level we’d all hoped we’d avoid forever.

I don’t believe any of this “I’ll be happy to see us back there in non-league if we still owned our club” stuff. It never happens in the real world, when it actually becomes a possibility.

Christ, you should see the reaction when we draw against Accrington,. Too many weekends have been ruined in recent years as it is, and that’s us staying up in L1.

Football fans want to see their team win, and we are certainly no different. We can accept (just about) our team being shit, but a managed decline just to keep a particular ownership model alive?

This is something I think the Fan Ownership evangelists overlook, and is something that SW19 has tried to point out occasionally over the years – for the vast majority of football fans, the most important thing is the day of the game.

You see your team hopefully win. You see your mates. You enjoy the whole social experience, because it’s your escape from the daily pressures of the rest of the week.

Interfere with that at your peril.

A constantly shit experience on and off the field will hasten the desire for getting additional funding in, because the financial pressures will end up being too great. Not to mention the psychological aspect of us going from this, to this, to this.

The loans scenario? To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised to see us go down some sort of messy compromise with this and the external funding.

It’s not a great solution, and if we default on any loan – more than possible – then we’d need urgent backing from outside anyway. Not to mention if it just eats up every single bit of revenue, which will lead us back to where we are already.

This would at least get the whole stadium built, but if you were a lender – why would you arrange a loan with a L1 football club these days? At least, one worth £11m.

These two options will likely force us to accept new funding on somebody else’s terms, as we’d be so desperate for help we’ll accept anything.

Which is why the club is pushing the third option, namely that of getting in outside funds on its own terms.

We simply don’t know what those are going to be, and if there’s any ambiguity or there’s something “not quite right” it will fail. Where that will leave us is anyone’s guess, but the club has to finally grasp the whole comms thing.

For obvious reasons, the ground/identity issue is absolute sacrosanct. But one thing I’ve noticed this week that there’s more pragmatism amongst most people over the rest of it.

Even the de facto WISA letter states gives a (not unreasonable) assumption that having 51% ownership could be acceptable to many people. The desire for absolute control isn’t as strong as one may think.

Once we know more, we can go on from there. Some of the current angst is simply not knowing what’s on offer, after all.

Why are AFCW so determined to push this option? For the same reason as what has dawned on many fans this week – the way we do things no longer works.

Simply put, the club has finally been found out. It is a club run on a semi-professional basis that is trying to compete in the very professional Football League.

It is trying to complete a complex construction project with a lot of people who are either a) doing the jobs of three people, and/or b) doing this alongside their full time employment.

This is simply unsustainable, and now it’s finally been exposed.

As one DTB regular put it, in my spare time I work. Your editor also eavesdropped a conversation at a PSF this summer with somebody presumably involved closely, and they said it practically means sacrificing your social life.

With that in mind, no wonder there’s not enough oversight.

AFCW is pushing for this because it needs help. The resources have been stretched beyond breaking point, and now the shoestring has broken.

If you want more cliches, you can say the cat has been let out of the bottle, or the genie has been released from the bag. I think they’re the expressions, anyway.

But it’s not just resources that have been exposed, it’s the whole culture of the club as well. It may be broken, it may just be heavily dented, but it certainly can’t stay the same any longer.

Whatever goes on between the FCB and the DTB, it doesn’t work well enough now. Either things get ignored, or half-done, or lost within the mountain of 1000 other things that need to be done yesterday.

The Dons Trust itself is mostly irrelevant for the majority of people (though ironically it will have its biggest part to play ever in the next two months). Even for those who are members.

Look at the amount of people who voted in the last election, which if you didn’t know has just finished. I had to look it up myself. More people will have read this very sentence than submitted their ballot.

It is claimed that DT is the centre of the club, but it isn’t. It may be heretic to say this, but AFCW could easily exist without it.

There’s about 3300 members, but there are over 2000 who are basically silent. What do they think? Do they just see the DT as a donation and nothing more? Do they go to games? Many who do are not members. Are they even AFCW fans to begin with?

We don’t know, although we’re about to find out. Maybe.

But too many times over the past few years, we haven’t been a Fans Club™ anyway. Look at how Ardley was kept on, from a FCB (and rubberstamping DTB) that seemed almost hostile to anyone suggesting he was sacked.

As somebody at the time put it, we had the worst of both worlds – run like an unaccountable oligarch but with the financial backing of a pauper.

The DTB doesn’t seem to have much clout over the FCB in football matters, and the whole setup seems over-bureaucratic and run by committee.

While I think the club was right to axe Walter, I can understand some thinking that a more “professional” outfit wouldn’t have done that. Although personally, I don’t think WD would have been considered under a different regime.

The words “disconnect” and “overhaul” have been bandied about for a number of years, and if somebody from outside took over – would you notice much change in accountability anyway?

This is why, depending on what’s offered, I wouldn’t automatically rule out this proposal passing. It may not be a case of ceding control but simply accepting being more “professional”.

Let’s face it – unless you want to be back in non-league football you just cannot run in the way we do any more.

At the very, very least, we need more Joe Palmer types in throughout the club. Marketing, finance, day-to-day decision making (apparently JP spends about “95%” of his time working on NPL. Again, for somebody who is supposed to be running the whole club, that’s unsustainable).

That comes with a cost though, a literal one. Nobody with any sort of money is going to put in funds just to let the same amateurs make the same decisions that has put us in this perilous position.

If you’ve got any sort of business acumen, you’d want to take over the majority of day-to-day stuff.  Depending on how benevolent you are let the DT/whoever have the ultimate sanction over ground/identity.

For many investors, that might not be a bad trade off. Especially if you can get a rake-off from some of NPL’s functions.

Nobody wants an asset-stripper, but there are much easier clubs to do that with than AFCW. Any club in non-league, for example.

All this has happened somewhat quickly, possibly too quickly for some. And we’re needing to make a very important decision with the proverbial gun to the head.

But over the years, that’s how AFCW has operated. We are a very reactionary club, we never do anything major/radical unless we absolutely have to, and things only ever get done before they get too late.

You can cite managerial firings, or even the whole Darlogate II episode, where major issues of governance were finally tackled after we lost three points because of it.

A number of years down the line from that episode, things haven’t changed that much.

It might have taken since we decided to go full-time as a squad, but things have now finally come to a head.

That it’s tied up with NPL may have added extra to it, but this is entirely keeping with our approach over the years.

If nothing else, things won’t be the same again. There’s now a wide acceptance that we’ve handled this wrongly, that there wasn’t enough oversight and steps taken to lessen the impact.

We had to do NPL, and the fact we’re going home is the main thing, but this week we finally grew up.

There’s long been a sense that we’ve skirted around too many issues, not willing to face them head on, but they’ve come and headbutted us between the eyes anyway.

This week has scared the shit out of some (many?), but it seems to be the only way to get them to pay attention,

Heads in the sand? Perhaps, although the club itself didn’t help by saying everything re: loans etc was alright when they weren’t.

Should the Seedrs** thing have gone ahead? I have to admit, it was strange that we did it when the assurances previously implied we didn’t need to.

** – purely IMO, I think it was as much a fishing exercise to see what “big hitters” were out there, and how much they were willing to put in for something that was quite poor incentive wise.

That less than ten people put in over half the sum maybe proved to the club what deep down they already knew…

Sure, I paid £50 and others put in more, and I bet some must be thinking they’ve been misled.

What’s going to happen with all of this? Who knows. We lack information at the moment, and the longer things are silent the more the suspicion/paranoia will take hold.

The names of the potential investor(s) is/are known to the decision makers, but their identity has to be known sooner rather than later. Silence will kill this stone dead.

There is still a lot of baggage from 2002, which is why I wouldn’t be surprised to see the concrete proposals being watered down from what they could be.

But I do think there’s a undercurrent of support for fundamental change now, and maybe enough people will make that leap of faith to ensure it happens? Never predict what people do when faced with a stark choice.

We’ll see what happens. Although we do that a lot at AFCW, and that’s probably a lot of the problem.

I’m in two minds about being football-free tomorrow. I like the break from it (though I might be working at Kingstonian. Your sympathy is welcome), but playing tomorrow would remind us of what really matters in supporting a football club.

Imagine playing Gills in the FAC and beating them for the second time in seven days? You’d forget all about this week, even if only briefly.

One final thought – maybe some of our fans should have been a little less forthright when condemning Wycombe and Pompey for ditching their ownership models…